Is the Modern Family Unfair to Women?

Is the modern family unfair to women? This is a really fair and challenging question. Jeff and I have talked about this a lot. We both think it likely is. If it was all about fairness and who in our modern culture, again the modern culture is the key here, who is really baring the unusual amount of responsibility for the family team functioning well, typically it’s our wives. This is a tough one to deal with, and we had this conversation erupt in the Homeroom which I thought was really great. 

Stephanie in the Homeroom said, “For many women, the achievements come at a cost. It is more difficult for a woman than a man to have it all. That is to reach her goals in terms of work as well as family. Although gender roles have become much more egalitarian in many countries over the past half century, it remains true that an ambitious man is often married to a woman who is willing to serve a supportive family oriented role, and take the main responsibility for caring for children and running the household. Whereas it is rare for an ambitious woman to be able to find a man who’s willing to serve this kind of complimentary role. This is just one of those areas, you guys, where the modern family idea is breaking down, and it’s unfortunate because if it breaks down more often for women than for men, then obviously it’s going to play into a gender battle that’s going on in our culture. That’s what oftentimes tends to happen. 

I just want to talk through a little bit about what this means, because what do you do when this is happening in a family? What do you do when you feel like it’s unfair? A lot of times what I think the culture is not talking about I think honestly enough is that the prescription that it seems our culture bends towards is, who’s going to take the hit in the family? Generally speaking, what we’ve decided culturally is that children will take the hit. What that means is we’re going to let the man pursue all of his ambitions outside the home. We want to give the equal ability for his wife, for the mother to really go after her goals outside the home, and so in that we just talk and we want to pretend like this third party in the family, the children, that they don’t exist in this equation. Somebody’s got to take that hit, right? To make this right, and we’ve had some hard conversations with friends of ours lately where that’s happening, and it’s not really being acknowledged as that. 

They want to constantly cast the conversation as a battle between sexes, and when you just cast the conversation in that light, then often what happens is we try strategically to not talk about who’s really absorbing the loss in this case. That is the children. What Jeff and I have really been trying to discuss with you guys is that if you have to choose, oftentimes the culture will let the kids take the hit. Oftentimes the church will just say to the wife, “Well, you take the hit.” It’s traditional gender roles. “You need to do all the work and forget about any of those areas where you feel like it might be unfair.” What we’re really trying to advocate for you guys is that there’s a role in which the dad can step up and absorb a lot of more of this than we oftentimes think. 

So as you begin to think about it as a family team, instead of seeing this as a battle for who is stuck with having to deal with the stuff in the family because it’s being so terribly devalued, is what we’re trying to do with family teams is lift the value of the family to an extent that both the husband and wife are excited to dive into deeper and deeper engagement in the home. When that happens, that’s when the family starts to flourish and the kids don’t have to take the hit that the culture is sort of demanding that they take at this point to solve this issue. Jeff, how have you thought about this one?

Yeah. I think it just has to be warranted and has to be seen, that you have to understand history here and you have to understand the big story. We’ve talked about it before, but you can go all the way back to a pretty big turning point in the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution. The first one is even earlier than that, but I would say 1800s is where it started getting really strong, started really changing the workplace. So then you have, obviously, the dads start leaving the home, going more to a place for a certain type of paycheck, and then coming home and returning that money back into the family. When he did that, it left a huge gap in the ecosystem of the family team. Families were actually in general mostly teams before then, and at some level they’re still teams, but it became very much divide and conquer, very much individualistic once the dads started leaving. So then you have a huge gap of needs in the home.

The headquarters just lost a huge asset in the father not being there anymore, so who takes the brunt of that? Who picks up the slack? The mom, right? In an enormous, brutal way. So, she has to basically play both sides at home. Take on all that energy, take on all those responsibilities. Then you could probably go jump forward another hundred years once you get to early 1900s, and we very clearly, historically and sociologically shift from a culture of contribution to a culture of consumers. So, now we’re all about taking and receiving and what that did to the children is now all of a sudden the children now no longer help the team. When before you had kids to help. You needed literally farm hands, you needed work hands, you needed employees for the actually family dynasty and family business, now all of a sudden once we shifted to consumer cultures kids are nothing more but just open mouths that you have to feed, feed, feed, give, give, give. 

So now all of a sudden their contribution just got left a gaping wound in the home, right? Now they no longer help and give because now they’re just there to consume, not to give. Somebody, my little man just popped in right now. Perfect timing. The one thing with that is there’s another gaping wound, and who fills that gap? The mom. You can go on, and on, and on. Basically I would say there’s probably four or five of those where the mom has actually picked up the slack in these huge historical moments over the last 200 years. So yes, it is unfair. That’s the long answer to say yes, that is wrong. That is unfair the slack she’s having to pick up, and I actually think that’s 100% the reason why most moms trying to do it on their own just burn out. I’m just like, “Yeah, because they should. They’re not meant to do that. They’re not mean to hold all of that.” Right?


The team is meant to hold that, and so that’s the first thing. You have, like Jeremy said, don’t let it be a debate about gender. Let it be a debate about team versus individuality, and there’s always a myriad of sacrifice on any team of everyone sacrificing at different levels. There’s also some teams where it’s unfair, so obviously you want to look at that and say, “Hey, how can we make this more equitable and charitable?” Every team sacrifices for the greater good, and so that’s the one thing. Make the conversation there. Center it there and then like I always talked about with Wendell Berry too, of don’t just choose. Like he says. Don’t just choose the slavery that the man chose 200 years ago. That’s not the problem. That might just delay us looking at the data, but in 100 years from now we’ll look at the same thing and say, “Eh, I don’t know if that’s the solution.”

One last thing I’ll say here is, go listen to one of my favorite podcasts recently. I always forget how to pronounce his name because I think it’s French or something. It’s Gabor Maté or something like that, the guy that wrote Hold On to Your Kids. He’s a world class, world trained child psychologist. He has a podcast episode where he got interviewed on the Goop podcast, which is that Gwyneth Paltrow podcast. 


That’s one of my favorite. I just wouldn’t have guessed that would be one of my favorite podcasts in the last couple years. Man, I don’t know if you listened to it Jeremy when I sent it to you, but that episode is brilliant, man.

I did. 

He just-

How did you find out about that? Are you just crushing the Goop podcast normally?

Yeah, exactly because I’m a Goop fanatic. I’m a Goop fanatic, which I love that word too. I’m like, “Why did she name the brand Goop?” Man, it’s brilliant and it’s wide because he’s a secular world class psychologist leaning into these things with the data and the research. I mean, he comes on strong towards the end where he basically says he thinks that because of our work economy and because of the unfairness of mothers and fathers and all these different things, he kind of argues that he thinks the demands of work in the West is almost giving every single baby born in the West soft PTSD. Because they’re not able to actually have the time-

They’re being removed from the mother, yes.

Yeah, they’re not able to have the time and the resources to properly attach to the mom. 

He’s not saying that from religious concerns, he’s not saying that from religious concerns, he’s not saying that because the woman has to do that. He just says biologically, you’ve got to admit there’s a level here of it’ll go well for you and it’s a longer play, just like the stock market with compound interest, if you lean into those seasons of attachment and of those first couple years. It will come back around on the ROI, and there’s seasons, there’s growth. There’s a lot more there, but I would say go listen to that podcast because it was really, really profound and his research and his data is really, really sharp. Like Jeremy said, don’t make this about gender. Make this about team versus individual.

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